ELECTRIC OUTBOARDS: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My ePropulsion Spirit 1.0 Plus Motor

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April 4/2024:  I pimped this baby in print in the April 2024 issue of SAIL (that copy also was just posted on SAIL’s website), but now my enthusiasm is bubbling over here on to WaveTrain. I ended up cruising the Caribbean this winter using ePropulsion’s electric Spirit 1.0 Plus as my primary dinghy outboard, and it proved to be a critical piece of kit. After I fractured my wrist, and particularly after I lost my crew and couldn’t easily get things moved about by just pointing at them and barking out orders, this little motor saved my butt.

Because it breaks down into two pieces (see photo up top—there’s a drive leg with the actual motor in the bulb ahead of the prop and the battery pack, which is easily removed from the leg), and neither piece weighs very much, I had little trouble slinging the Spirit in and out of my dinghy and mounting it one-handed. (Well, mostly one-handed.) If I’d been stuck with just my old 5hp two-stroke Tohatsu, which isn’t that easy to lift even with two good hands, I’d have had no way to propel my tender, or I’d have badly aggravated my injury.

Follow the SAIL link and you can see my basic one-page evaluation: the reliable battery monitor (very important!), the speeds I achieved, distances covered, charge times and loads, etc.

What’s happened since I wrote that copy (months in advance, as is the custom with print comics) is that I’ve spent a whole month in the W’Indies entirely off-grid relying (almost) solely on the Spirit to push my tender around. We plugged into shore-power at the Jolly Harbour marina in Antigua before starting out in early February, mostly just to pump the Spirit’s battery up to full charge. (If left idle for a long time, the lithium battery will discharge itself to 60 percent, to preserve battery life.) But after that the sole means of maintaining charge was plugging into the mothership’s 220V AC inverter when motoring (which, being in the W’Indies, wasn’t that often) or 12V trickle-charging supported by the boat’s solar and wind capacity.

Charging the Spirit battery aboard Lunacy while the engine is running. I have 220V AC power (it’s a Euro boat) when running the onboard inverter, and the standard charger that came with my motor is 110V, so I have to use that Tumi converter to make this work. Not exactly ideal. I’ve not yet found a source for a 220V charger

 

I’ll be honest. I was paranoid about keeping the Spirit operable off-grid for so long and was super-worried about its state of charge. “Range anxiety” is what the automotive pundits call this mindset. Consequently, when running back and forth to shore in the tender—on Guadeloupe, St. Martin, St. Barth’s, Jost Van Dyke, St. John, and St. Thomas—I kept the tender moving slowly and rarely had the Spirit running above 20 percent of its total output. The other consequence of this anxiety was that I never saw the battery charge level fall below 50 percent. Most of the time it was at 75 percent or higher. Lesson learned: I’ll be much less anxious and run the engine harder in the future.

Charging up the battery with 110V AC household power using the standard charger in my shed back home. I found it takes about seven hours to bring an almost depleted battery back to full charge this way. An optional fast charger is also available

 

The one time I didn’t use the Spirit this winter was when we were anchored at Anse du Columbier on St. Barth’s and wanted to run by dinghy around to Gustavia, a distance of two miles, to check in and run errands. I still had crew at this point to do heavy lifting, and we actually ended up making the four-mile round trip twice, so we mounted the “big” Tohatsu on the tender for those excursions, mostly so we could just run faster.

For it is true, I’m still carrying my old Tohatsu on Lunacy, simply because there’s space enough to store both motors onboard. The Tohatsu hangs on its bracket on the stern pulpit, as always, and the Spirit, because it breaks down into two much more discrete parts, can be stowed a couple of different ways inside the boat and/or in deck lockers, depending on the circumstances. This is something I couldn’t really do with both my gas-powered outboards (the other being a 2.5hp Honda I am now selling). Being able to easily carry two tender motors gives me a great feeling of both flexibility and security. As in, I can always, if I want, avoid being limited to having to row the tender.

And speaking of security, I’ve also concluded the Spirit motor makes a great de facto theft-prevention device. First, random thieves looking to simply hop in a tender and spin away in it will likely only be confused when they see a motor such as the Spirit on a transom. Second, even if they do understand what they’re looking at, thieves are unlikely to have the magnetic blue MOB key you need to make the Spirit motor actually run immediately available to them (unlike the ubiquitous easy-to-jury-rig MOB clips needed to get a gas-powered outboard started). Third, you can further confuse a prospective thief by fixing the drive leg so it cannot turn by leaving the special immobilizing pin in place under the battery pack. A thief familiar with the motor can easily get around this, but a thief new to the motor will almost certainly never figure it out.

Of course, I did use a lock and cable to deter anyone looking to simply remove the motor from my dinghy. But I reckon the simple novelty of the motor would make it unattractive to a thief in any event. (Though of course any such “novelty defense” is likely to diminish over time as electric outboards become more common.) The final defense, most obviously, is simply removing the battery, as anyone who doesn’t have their own Spirit battery is very unlikely to be interested in just the drive leg.

The Spirit can in fact cover some distance. This is me last fall making one of five one-and-a-half-mile round trips I ran between my home in Portsmouth and Lunacy’s temporary marina berth all on one charge at moderate speeds. Note the blue fob on the tiller arm. That’s the magnetic MOB key, without which the motor cannot function

 

The top of the drive leg with the battery pack off. That blue rubber pin keeps the leg from rotating, and the battery can be installed on top of it with the pin still in place. I’ve often towed my dinghy with the drive leg still on the transom, pinned like this, but with the battery off. The drive leg is perfectly waterproof, and its weight (about 20 pounds) is negligible compared to the overall weight of the dinghy. It makes for a more stable tow than leaving a whole motor on the tender’s transom. And yeah, I’ve given myself a few dope-slaps forgetting to remove the pin before putting on the battery to go somewhere

 

The Spirit’s simple, very functional control panel. The display here tells us I have 17 minutes of run time left with the motor running at just under 40 percent (a 398-watt draw out of a total capacity of 1000 watts). So far I’ve found the battery monitor to be very reliable

 

Of course, you have to be someone like me to find a motor like the Spirit attractive. As in, you want to run a reasonable-size tender (mine is a 9-foot inflatable with a roll-up floor), and you don’t care if you can’t get up on a plane in it.

Sailing around the W’Indies this winter, I noticed more and more people (even sailors!) want to run pretty elaborate, fairly large RIBs with extraneous features and huge engines that can have them planing in seconds.

Like this guy here:

ePropulsion can certainly sell you a motor and battery pack fully capable of driving a boat like that, but you sure won’t be charging it up off-grid with a couple of solar panels and a wind generator. Nor will you be slinging it about one-handed.

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